UPON arriving at the Woodstock compound last Friday, one couldn't help but notice the sea of tents. They covered hills and fields as far as the eye could see. It was like a Day-Glo version of Gettysburg. It wasn't until the music festival began in earnest that it became apparent that there would be almost as many casualties.
Despite the attempts at military efficiency, despite the thousands of employees and security people (here called the ``Peace Patrol''), it quickly became obvious that control was not going to be maintained.
By the middle of the first day, the site already seemed packed to capacity. People weren't sticking to the assigned campgrounds; they were pitching their tents anywhere they could find a few feet of land, including muddy areas of the woods.
I spent the morning wandering around the 840 acres, first exchanging my money for scrip, and then taking in the Eco-Village, with its profusion of booths representing politically correct causes.
I also checked out the Surreal Village, which was a sort of high-tech theme park. Philips, the electronics company, had a giant air-conditioned tent (which, as the heat set in, became very popular) in which they put on a multimedia show that led to a showcase for their products.
After wandering through the Apple Computer exhibit, I went to the ``Todd-Pod'' tent, in which rock musician Todd Rundgren put on several shows a day, performing behind a computer bank that looked as if it could operate the space shuttle.
Then I tried to return to the main field, where the North Stage was. It was necessary to walk over a small bridge, and what took five minutes only a few hours ago now took 40. When I finally reached the field, it was filled to the brim, and near the front of the stage, dozens of jostling bodies were moshing and body-surfing.
Even before the rain on Saturday, the field was filled with mud, thanks to the water-shower cooling systems the promoters installed. By the end of the day, simply moving around was an arduous task.
The following day, after a luxurious hour of sleep, I was ready for some music. The problem was, so were 350,000 other people. By the time the show finally started it was so humid that one's glasses would immediately fog up. But Joe Cocker made it all worth it by delivering a great set.
It was during the hard-driving set by the Rollins Band that it started to rain. This was not ordinary rain; this was rain-forest rain. It reduced the part of the crowd that had managed to survive the night with any vigor to something resembling a pack of wet rats. It was at that point that many of them, including me, decided to pack it in.
Of course, from a strictly musical standpoint, there was nothing exceptional about this festival, aside from the sheer number of acts. It was basically a showcase for current popular rock, and if you live in any major city you've had the chance in the last year to see almost everyone who appeared at Woodstock. With rare exceptions, each performer put on basically his normal show.
Shorn of the political and social upheavals that dominated the last Woodstock, this edition was just a very, very large outdoor concert. Ironically, what gave it resonance, and what it will be remembered for, is the sheer volume of the crowd and the very loss of control that made it such an ordeal for anyone save the very young and hardy. The young generation of people who were there seemed to thrive on the physical demands put upon them. They seemed to think that it was due them, that the only way they could experience their own Woodstock was to suffer in a similar manner. Considering the financial windfall that the weekend will likely generate, it probably won't be nearly as long as 25 years before they get the chance again.
Watching the rest of the show on Pay-Per-View in the comfort of my easy chair, I was able to appreciate the music, something that was impossible at the site itself. Some of the more notable moments:
* Cocker, one of the few Woodstock veterans to perform again, cheerfully ending his set by saying, ``See you again in 2019!''
* Crosby, Stills, and Nash, endlessly plugging their latest album.
* Saturday night's six hours of hard rock, ending at 3:30 a.m.: A triple punch of Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Aerosmith, which was the most dramatic example of the vast divide between the original Woodstock generation and this one.
* The Band, jamming with special guests like Roger McGuinn, Bob Weir, and Bruce Hornsby.
* The punk-rock group Green Day engaging in a mud-throwingfight with its audience.
* Jimi Hendrix's sister announcing plans for a 1995 ``Jimi-Fest.'' Heaven help us.
* The Red Hot Chili Peppers appearing onstage dressed as giant lightbulbs.
* Great musical performances by the Allman Brothers Band, Bob Dylan (his most engaging performance in years), and the Neville Brothers.